It arrived today, the present to myself that has been three years in the making. Three long, dark, desperate years. Nathaniel Rateliff has always tackled heavy subject matter in his writing; be it alcoholism, divorce, or death. His third solo album, ‘And It’s Still Alright’, was a direct and emotional response to the death of his friend and mentor, Richard Swift. In this record Rateliff is still clearly coming to terms with this personal loss, as well as tackling a new love life post-divorce, all whilst the world languishes in a pandemic.
Perhaps that’s why it seems so apt that ‘The Future’ kicks off with the Dylan-esque title track. Perhaps the only way to understand and appreciate the monumental catastrophe that has been the intervening years between ‘Tearing At The Seams’ and Nathaniel Rateliff’s newest release is through the medium of the greatest musical chronicler of harrow and desperation.
It’s a noticeable change for Rateliff; his two previous LPs with his backing band ‘The Night Sweats’ have started off with ‘I Need Never Get Old’ and ‘Shoe Boot’. Head-nodding, toe-tapping, hip-shaking vintage rhythm and blues belters. Songs that you can’t help but find yourself strutting around your house to, with your thumbs tucked into your belt loops.
This arrives with gusto in ‘Survivor’. Long standing friend and collaborator, Joseph Pope III, hits you straight out the blocks with a typically punchy baseline. Rateliff rallies against the notion of being a survivor. One can’t help but feel it’s directed at people in his life who want to paint him as a toughened fighter, a tag it seems Rateliff isn’t comfortable with.
The third track, ‘Face Down In The Moment’, has the familiar ebb and flow provided by Patrick Meese on drums. A heart-wrenching love letter to someone who’s barely holding on, someone ‘face down in the moment waiting to let go’.
‘Something Ain’t Right’ and ‘Love Me Till I’m Gone’ deliver the textbook soul of a Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats record. ‘Baby I Got Your Number’ features a stripped back sound, allowing Rateliff’s vocals space to explore. That meandering Missouri burr allowed to play with the song’s lyrics surrounding newfound love and adoration.
These notions of love and adoration are continued in the soulful ‘What If I’. We find Rateliff questioning his emotional strength as he asks, ‘what if I can’t take the heartache’.
In ‘I’m On Your Side’ and ‘So Put Out’ we start to feel ‘The Night Sweats’ really begin to let loose. There’s something there to dig their teeth into, but throughout this album Rateliff’s backing band feel more tethered than in previous releases.
There’s the occasional nod to the unmistakable ‘Night Sweats’ impetus delivered by Andreas Wild, Jeff Dazey and Daniel Hardaway on Brass. Some songs start to get busier and less introspective, more celebratory. But just as they do, we get pulled back down to earth and reminded that the last two years aren’t necessarily ones to celebrate.
That is, until the final song. The tempo of ‘Love Don’t’ is just slightly higher than the rest of the record. This is the barnstormer, the toe-tapper. The combination of Rateliff’s unhinged howling vocals and his backing bands energetic Motown-esque sound contribute to a glorious life affirming final song of hope for things to come.
In this, their third LP, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats deliver a wonderful blend of introspection and celebration. This album seems to be an amalgam of Rateliff’s solo and backing band output. We see a slightly different side to Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. A slightly slower paced record, still heavily influenced by old-school rhythm and blues, Motown, and soul. Still tackling heavy subject matter. But all the while undercut with feelings of existential dread courtesy of that great big global elephant in the room, the pandemic.